Selecting A New City Manager – Why Not Try Something Different?

Don’t ignore local Fernandina Beach candidates. People who already know the city, the government, the way of life here.

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

What’s it called when someone does the same ineffective thing, over and over, but expects a different result? By definition, it’s known as insanity. 

And it has been on full-frontal display within the Fernandina Beach city government in recent years. Once again, like a clock that doesn’t work, city commissioners have decided to conduct a vast search for a new city manager. You know, throw a wide net. Unfortunately, it’s the same sordid story. 

To complicate matters, they’ll likely use some bureaucratic organization to conduct the search. The same type of path that produced Dale Martin, Michael Czymbor and Bob Mearns in a litany of failed city managers. 

You might ask, why not try something different? And that’s the multi-million-dollar question. Somehow we have to get from where we are to where we need to be. 

The most obvious omission in this process is to ignore local candidates. People who already know the city, the government, the way of life here. Transporting someone in from middle-of-nowhere Connecticut is wasteful, costly and risky (i.e. Martin). 

If you haven’t noticed, Fernandina Beach and the rest of Amelia Island are chock full of skilled, educated, talented men and women. One of whom might be interested in an appointed position like city manager rather than an elected one like a commissioner. 

There are also powerful job-hunting sites like LinkedIn, Indeed and ZipRecruiter. It’s the way small and large businesses hunt for candidates, so why not a municipality? Shopping local if possible. 

The mumbo-jumbo about finding a new city manager who understands the complexities of a small-town government is irrelevant. People who have managed businesses can figure it out pretty quickly, as former city manager Joe Gerrity did, for instance.

Gerrity, who owned and operated multiple McDonald’s franchises, has succeeded in city manager roles here and in Atlantic Beach. He also was a county manager in Suwannee. 

The biggest advantages of hiring an astute businessman are a willingness to cut costs, run a tight budget, and avoid waste. Martin did none of this. Instead, Martin grew the government to unfathomable levels, and then pleaded with the help of lackey commissioner Chip Ross for more money. 

In contrast, Gerrity kept the staff at a minimal level, repurposed vehicles to keep them longer, and spent cautiously. In other words, he did more with less. Words we should live by. 

We are finished with insatiable appetites for more government – in the city, the county, and with the school district. Nassau County has a spending problem in many areas and in many ways. 

As property taxes here exploded in recent years, the municipal bodies rejoiced. None of them rolled back their tax rates from the previous year. The county and the school district have excuses in some ways, however, since they are growing exponentially. 

Fernandina Beach is not. The 12 square miles of incorporated Fernandina Beach have not expanded. The population has inched up, but in no way has justified the expansion of government under Martin, Ross and former ringleader and cohort Mike Lednovich. 

In contrast, the new commission is full of promise. Mayor Bradley Bean is conducting meetings and making decisions with authority and confidence. Vice mayor David Sturges is filling his complementary role with vigor and vision. It is a formidable one-two punch. 

New commissioner Darron Ayscue is learning quickly and is willing to make tough decisions. He has a wealth of potential, and presents a reliable and decisive third vote. Ayscue joined the commission in November, as did James Antun. 

However, Antun appears to be siding with Ross more than with the three other conservatives. Ross went on his normal tangent at the latest meeting about needing an executive-type search firm, which could cost up to $50,000 or more. And produce another Martin. 

“We need to hire a professional (search firm),” Ross opined. “You want professional results, you hire a professional.” 

To his credit, Bean opposed hiring a pricey search firm. Instead, Bean wanted to have an appointed group of citizens do much of the leg work. With assistance from human resources. Once again, Bean is a voice of reason.

Here’s the operative question. What if a qualified Fernandina Beach resident came forward and applied, with exemplary credentials none of the three previous city managers had? Would you consider him or her, and call off the exhaustive and time-consuming search? 

It would save a lot of time, money and anguish. Sounds like a new strategy, versus the old stale method. Maybe that person is out there, awaiting the call. 

We should be listening and searching for it. Let’s replace the insanity with sanity. 


Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a national brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in Northeast Florida and in Southeast Georgia, and on his website at He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He has also done financial reports for area radio stations and for National Public Radio in Jacksonville. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 904-753-0236.